Repulsion is a 1965 psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanksi. It tells the story of Carole, a manicurist who, after being left alone by her holidaying sister, experiences horrific and violent visions of rape as her sanity begins to slip, mostly due to her fear or disgust of intimacy of men. Soon Carole kills Colin, a man who is infatuated with her, after he breaks in to talk to her, Carole then kills the landlord who tries to be intimate with her, and goes into a catatonic state. When her sister returns she finds the bodies and her sisters hidden under the bed. Once Carole is taken away, the audience is shown a childhood photo covered in shadows, all that can be seen is a young girl, implied by the landlord to be Carole, glaring at an old man, who is half hidden by the shadows.
The symbolism of Carole’s ever decreasing sanity throughout the film is portrayed through the set design. The first sign of Carole’s sanity deteriorating is when she mentions there is a crack in the wall which must be fixed, to which her sister seems unknowing about the crack, this creates the first link between cracks and Carole’s sanity, as only she can see the cracks. Nearer the beginning of the film the splits and cracks throughout the walls are thin and seem repairable, but as the film progresses the deterioration of her flat and her mind increases. Thin splits have become giant chasms in the walls, and the large cracks have become irreparable.
|Fig 2: Cracking u|
Now that the hard shell of Carole’s mind and her walls, the organic insides are now on show, as now on the brink of insanity she places her hand on the seemingly thick plastered wall, and leaves a handprint in the fleshy wall. The walls again are shown to be made of organic flesh again as when she leans against the wall and a hand suddenly explodes from the wall, attempting to grab her. The final time the walls are shown to be made out of soft tissue is when Carole is walking down the hallway, and several grabbing hands again explode from each wall, trying to reach for her, her sanity now truly destroyed.
|Fig 3: Corridor of hands|
This fleshy material for the walls with hands protruding out to reach for Carole could be seen as a symbol of forceful intimacy, as Carole by this point has had two real men forcibly make their way to her in an attempt for intimacy, and several fantasy men have broken through doors and appear out of thin air for extreme intimacy. Peter Bradshaw (2013) said that “The nightmare she creates for herself is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen in the cinema: the way scenes will end with bizarre hallucinations and jolts; the "assault" scene played out to the amplified ticking clock” explaining that Carole is now creating these paranoid nightmares of assault which are rather disturbing, as each imaginary man assaults Carole there is no sound or score during these scenes only a ticking clock, presenting the idea that Carole’s mind is deteriorating more and more, while Carole is helpless to do anything, not even scream for help.
|Fig 4: Wall hands grabbing and groping Carole|
The sizing of rooms is another key feature in the set design, which again symbolises her sanity and her grasp on reality is slipping away. Several times throughout the film small rooms within the flat expand into large, near empty rooms with only the furniture spread about. This morphing of room size and placement of items symbolises her lack of grip on reality, and also amplifies her feelings of loneliness and vulnerability, as she is left small and alone, dwarfed by her own flat, and this idea of the scenery reflecting Carole’s mind is mentioned by Elaine Macintyre (2014) “as Carol's mind disintegrates, the seedy, run down, claustrophobic apartment becomes the site of gothic horror, the castle, the dungeon, the lonely shack in the woods. The terrible place. But of course the terrible place isn't the flat at all. It's Carol's mind.”
The nightmares that occur throughout the film become more and more of a reality for Carole, as her nightmares no longer occur in her bedroom with men assaulting her each and every night, but have become the very foundations and structures of her apartment, as Bosley Crowther ( 1965) says, the “small cracks in the walls of the apartment flow into crunching indicators of the heroine's crumbling mind. Distortions in the rooms of the apartment tacitly reveal her mental state. Phantom arms that punch through the walls and seize her visualize her nightmare insanity.” presenting the idea that Carole, due to her mental state, is now truly living a nightmare of crumbling walls and assault from fantasy men and the walls themselves.
1. Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/03/repulsion-review
2. Elaine Macintyre, (2014), http://www.elainemacintyre.net/film_reviews/repulsion.php +
3. Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 1965, http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1739E471BC4C53DFB667838E679EDE
Fig 1: Film poster http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/movieposters/5617/p5617_p_v7_aa.jpg
Fig 2: Film still https://psychocinderella.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/repulsion4.png
Fig 4: Film still https://twentyfourframes.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/repulsion2.jpg